Can CO2 also Be a Renewable Resource?

| By Jacqueline Plaster & Leon Kirschgens

Since 1960, global emissions of carbon dioxide have been steadily increasing. More than ever, innovative ideas are needed to reintegrate CO2 into a cycle. The new EU training network "ConCO2rde" is dedicated to precisely this challenge.

The number is so big it is hard to imagine: more than 36 billion tonnes of CO2 were emitted in 2019, reaching its peak. Trend rising. The devastating effects this brings with it are now known worldwide. One thing is clear: if we do not act, we can watch the emissions and the resulting consequences increase as the population and industry further grows.

An innovative approach to reversing this trend comes from Europe: The new European innovative training network ITN H2020 'ConCO2rde' is researching ways for utilizing CO2 as renewable resource to produce future materials of our society. The network will consist of a diverse team of chemists, synthetic biologists, enzyme technologists and process engineers with the main goal of training 11 so-called 'Early Stage Researchers' (ESR). The collaboration of the different research disciplines should enable the conversion of CO2 by intelligent, autotrophic biorefineries – to fix CO2 and at the same time produce new, value-added products. More specifically: the organisms the scientists in the project are working with obtain the energy they need to grow from a mixture of CO2, hydrogen and oxygen and to form more complex molecules from CO2. It is precisely this ability of the organisms that is used in the project.


Overview of EU-Project ConCO2rde

This project will prepare the next generation of researchers for the implementation of sustainable autotrophic processes in the EU biotech sector. By combining biological processes with process engineering, biotechnological processes will also be taken to the next level.

Almost all countries worldwide committed themselves 5 years ago at the UN Climate Agreement in Paris to reducing gases that drive climate change. According to the agreement, global warming should be kept below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, but in any case below 2.0 degrees. That’s the plan. However, the reality looks different when looking at the new data of the Emissions Gap Report 2020 of the UN Environment Program. The report measures the gap between aspiration and reality, also known as the 'emissions gap', as it describes where we are likely to be and where we should be. Luckily, the Corona crisis was obviously a good year for the environment, if you look at emissions: according to the report, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will be about 7% lower than in 2019. This sounds like a success at first! But the impact of this reduction is disappointing: it would reduce global warming by only 0.01 degrees.

So in the end the Corona-crises didn’t change the fact, that even if all targets are reached, we are still heading for a temperature rise of 3.2 degrees until the end of this century.

But the Corona crisis also showed us one thing: Our behaviour can make a difference.

If we can already make a difference by reducing, what else can our further ambitions change? What if we could actually manage to use CO2 in innovative, environmentally friendly ways, transforming it from a pollutant into a renewable resource and thus reduce emissions?

Projects like ConCO2rde could make this a reality. Currently, suitable candidates are still being recruited from among the applicants for the 11 ESR-positions. The project is scheduled to start in May/June. We will soon be talking to project coordinator and Assistant Professor Dr. Sandy Schmidt to find out more about the project and how it was born. We look forward to sharing the interview and will keep you in the loop about this promising EU project! 


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